Preparing for the High Holidays

by Rabbi Michael Strassfeld and Rabbi Joy Levitt

elul The process of change is a challenging one. The Jewish tradition considered that Rosh ha-Shanah (the New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) didn’t give us enough time to reflect on the past year and engage in teshuva–change or repentance–in preparation for the new year. Therefore the month before the High Holidays, the month of Elul, became the starting point of this engagement with change. The first of Elul this year will be August 16.

At AARC’s Elul Shabbaton (August 14-15), we will begin with a Friday night service. Three weeks before, on the 9th of Av, we hit rock bottom in the annual festival cycle. The fast of Tisha b’Av marks the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem and the spiritual exile of Jews both as a people and as individuals. From that low point of existential aloneness, we move to reconciliation or more simply reconnection to God, to others around us and to ourselves. The rabbis found a hint of this in the name of this month, Elul. The Hebrew letters of Elul are the first letters of the verse Ani le-dodi ve-dodi li–I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine. These words are from Song of Songs, a book of love and connection. Shir ha-Shirim/Song of Songs will be our overarching theme for the Friday night service.

The Shabbaton continues on Shabbat afternoon with a short minha/afternoon service. The Shabbat minha service has as its theme a sense of oneness underlying the universe. We also read a short Torah portion that focuses on a call to pursue justice/tzedek. After all, we are to engage in teshuva/change not just to feel better about ourselves but to engage in making the world a more just and compassionate place.

Following minha, the teens will meet with Joy to help plan children’s programming for Rosh ha-Shanah. Everyone else is invited to study with Michael some Hasidic texts about change/teshuva. Rabbinic Judaism’s attitude toward misdeeds can be summarized by the phrase “just say no.” Hasidism had a more complicated response. It suggested that transformation comes about by accepting the truth about yourself and then striving to change it rather than dwelling on your past failures.

Finally, both of us together will share our own Jewish journeys. It will be an opportunity to get to know us, and for us to get to know you. It will also be an opportunity for people to share pieces of their own spiritual journeys as we as individuals, and as a community, begin preparing for the High Holidays.

Please join us.


Click here for more information about Rabbis Levitt and Strassfeld, who will be leading AARC’s High Holiday services, as well as this Shabbaton.  Rabbi Strassfeld will also return for two other Shabbatonim this year.

All events at the JCC, 2935 Birch Hollow Drive.

  • Friday, August 14: Kabbalat Shabbat service and pot-luck, 6:15 (niggunim), 6:30 (service).  Pizza for the kids at 6:15; childcare is available.  (Let us know if you need pizza and/or childcare)
  • Saturday, August 15:
    • 2 pm: Minha, with Torah service: 2 pm (Molly Kraus-Steinmetz will read Torah)
    • 3 pm: Teens prepare for High Holidays and kids’ service.  Adults study Hasidic teachings about teshuva
    • 4 pm: Jewish Journeys conversation.

 

 

Is there a new Jewish back to the land movement?

green-things-logo-1Is there a new Jewish back to the land movement? Let’s talk about it together on June 14th when we gather at Matthaei Botanical Gardens for the Farm Education and Sustainability Food Fest and take a tour of Green Things Farm. Certainly Nate Lada, who with his wife Jill Sweetman are the owners and operators of Green Things Farm, sees a connection between his Hebrew Day School education and his commitment to sustainable agriculture. When he was a guest speaker at a UM Hillel Tu B’Shvat seder in 2012, Nate talked about the importance of agriculture and respecting the Earth as central to the Jewish tradition. Twentysomething graduates of the UM where they both studied Environmental Science, Nate and Jill have taken advantage of several opportunities created by longtime Ann Arbor environmental activists such as the Ann Arbor greenbelt program, a thirty year investment voted on in 2003. With the goal of starting a family farm, Nate and Jill spent two years (2011-2012) as part of the first cohort at Jeff McCabe and colleagues’ Tilian Farm Incubator Program. There Nate and Jill learned many of the basics of the business of farming while taking advantage of the program’s land, equipment, farming mentors, and community support. The land they bought to start their own farm, on Nixon near Warren about 5 miles north of downtown, was also part of the greenbelt program, in which the city of Ann Arbor bought development rights on the properties, making the land affordable for farming. [Read more…]

“We heard God’s words without using our ears.”

Shuli and Me“We heard God’s words without using our ears.” So Shavuot is described at the end of Shuli and Me: From Slavery to Freedom, the storybook Omer calendar by Joan Benjamin-Farren you will hear at the AARC havdallah and Shavuot observance. The story, told from a freed slave child’s point of view, imagines those first seven weeks in the desert. We have been following the cloud. Today we are camped at the foot of the mountain. We’ve washed our clothes. We are waiting.

After havdallah, Rabbi Michal will lead us in a discussion of approaches to the concept of torah; the capital “T” Torah, the five books in our traditional scroll, and other uses of the concept of torah. A couple that speak to me, for instance: In a Kol Nidre sermon Rabbi Mona Alfi quoted the medieval scholar, Bachya ibn Pakuda: “Days are like scrolls, only write on them what you want to be remembered.” She explained, “In essence, what Bachya ibn Pakuda was saying is that each life is a Torah for future generations to examine and learn from.”

A description of Carol Ochs’ book Our Lives as Torah: Finding God in Our own Stories, says “Through the process of seeing our experiences in relation to Biblical stories, we begin to recognize our lives as part of the ongoing story of the Jewish people–as Torah.”

Let’s meet there, at the mountain, and discuss: May 23rd 7:30pm till ? At the home, still, of Rabbi Michal and Jon Sweeney, 2960 Lakeview Drive. Dairy, dessert potluck. Early evening all ages, after havdallah for adults, childcare available. Email Clare or Rabbi Michal.

Teach-Ins: 50 Years Ago and Today

teach in 50Fifty years ago this week, AARC member Alan Haber helped to organize the first anti-Vietnam War “teach-in” on the campus of the University of Michigan. In February and March 1965, the United States had begun sustained bombing of North Vietnam (and, secretly, Laos and Cambodia), and the first ground combat troops landed. As a co-founder and the first president (1960) of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), Alan had been organizing against the war for years. According to recent articles recalling the events, a few UM professors wanted to call a one day strike, but amid backlash decided to use their positions and the university’s resources differently. The first 12-hour teach-in (8pm-8am March 24-25, 1965) in campus spaces and involving two hundred professors and thousands of students, was a significant escalation of the anti-war protest movement. This coming weekend, March 27-28, the UM is hosting a “Teach-In +50: End the War Against the Planet.”

In a prelude to the weekend’s events, Alan and many other longtime peace activists are spending the week assessing lessons from the past and applying them to violent conflicts that still plague our world. You can still catch two panels on Thursday, March 26: On today’s wars in the Middle East, 3:00-5:30pm, Room B780 School of Social Work lower level; and Winning the Peace: What have We Learned, 7-9pm in the International Institute’s Meeting Room.

The full program for the week-end Teach-In is here

Reconstructionist “Virtual Bet Midrash”

jewish_recon_logo_0Jewish Reconstructionist Communities (JRC), the Reconstructionist movement’s umbrella organization, is offering a new distance learning opportunity that individuals all over the country can participate in. The “Virtual Bet Midrash” (Virtual House of Study) is a series of learning sessions taught by leaders in the Reconstructionist movement. Each session is presented using a conference call format, and subsequently made available as a recording. The series runs from February through April 2015. The next teaching will be February 19, “Jewish Prayer in a Time of Eco-Crisis,” taught by Rabbi Josh Jacobs-Velde. Rabbi Jacobs-Velde is the co-founder of ZMANIM (www.zmanim-seasons.org), an organization that explores and celebrates connections between Judaism and the natural world. For a full listing of the sessions and to register, go to Virtual Bet Midrash.

Getting together with a friend may be a fun way to study. If you do decide to take part, let me (Clare) know; we’d love to have you write a blog post about the session or the series!

Friendly folks, snacks and more at Sunday Morning Community Learning

Playing the part of roving blogger, I dropped in on the AARC Community Learning group at the JCC on Sunday morning, Jan. 18, 2015.

Community Learning at the JCC on Sunday, Jan. 18. 2015

Community Learning at the JCC on Sunday, January 18. 2015

What I found was a lovely, welcoming group (they had even brought three different kinds of delicious snacks) and a lively, thoughtful, enjoyable discussion. The topic of the day was mitzvot (commandments), a topic chosen to parallel the Beit Sefer students in their learning about mitzvot. Led by Rabbi Michal, the group explored a range of interesting angles, from the abstract to the concrete. These included the concept of holiness as a Jewish thing and a universal thing, ways of attempting to build Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) and Tzedakah (giving) into our lives and our family patterns, and how we feel about lighting Shabbat candles if we need to blow them out to leave the house before they burn out.

The discussion was based on a few chapters of reading from the book Living Judaism, by Rabbi Wayne Dosick. CommunityLearningBook-Wayne-Dosick Due to busy schedules, not everyone had completed the reading, yet everyone was able to jump in and share their thoughts.

The next Sunday morning Community Learning is scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 1, 2015 at the JCC.  Please Contact Rabbi Michal for more info. All are welcome.

January Community Learning–Sunday morning

Everyone is invited to join the Beit Sefer students in their learning about mitzvot/commandments. Our study will dovetail with the second session of the guided reading series that began last week (yes, you can still join this!) We will explore the nature and history of Judaism’s system of laws and ethics, its evolution over the centuries and what our own relationships with this concept in our lives.

Join us at 10am on Sunday, January 18th at the JCC. Preparatory reading materials will be available via email in advance or at 9:30 that morning.  To receive/reserve study materials or for any other questions about learning at the AARC contact Rav Michal.

This Sunday – Community Learning

Join us for our kick off of AARC Sunday Community Learning. As our beit sefer students begin a unit exploring Shabbat traditions, we invite teens, parents, and adult community members to a parallel learning opportunity:

AARC Community Learning:  Shabbat
Sunday, November 9, 9:30 am
JCC of Ann Arbor, 2935 Birch Hollow Drive

This morning of adult learning will consist of two parts. We begin with a review of shabbat traditions from the Torah to modern halachah to progressive, contemporary approaches. After a coffee break and nosh we will explore possibilities for bringing shabbat consciousness into our lives. Positive RSVPs always appreciated for space and nosh planning to ravmichal@aarecon.org.